Maryknoll mission promoters go online to accompany
missionary disciples during coronavirus pandemic
When the COVID-19 quarantine began in Texas, Deacon Arturo Monterrubio and his wife Esperanza were isolated at home. “Do not go out, please; you are elderly people,” their children and friends told them. Esperanza, who suffers from high blood pressure, knew she was at risk.
Parishioners from their St. Paul the Apostle Church, in Houston responded immediately to the lockdown order in March, leaving food, face masks, gloves and cleaning products at the front door of the couple’s home. “My heart was filled with gratitude and I started to cry because I felt we didn’t deserve it,” Esperanza says.
In their own isolation, the Monterrubios, who serve in their parish and work for the Maryknoll Society as mission promoters, felt the need to do something to help others through these difficult times. Working remotely with their colleagues in the Church Engagement Division (CED) of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, they organized webinars through which participants could find strength in their faith and learn how to help others struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are attempting to create opportunities for cross cultural experiences in which people can share and learn from each other,” says Matt Dulka, associate director of CED. “For example, waiting in line and food shortages may be a new experience for people in the United States, but, unfortunately, these have been more common experiences for those in developing countries. What can they teach us about trusting God and even finding simple joy in challenging times?”
The CED team began offering the webinar series in English and Spanish during the latter part of Lent, and continued through Holy Week and the Easter season. Following the See-Judge-Act methodology, webinars, which last an hour and a half, include input from missioners serving overseas, prayer, singing and Scripture reading. Participants are divided into small groups to share their reflections.
“The Monterrubios and other Maryknoll mission promoters like Deacon Leonel Yoque help facilitate the small chat groups.
“We are instruments of God,” says Deacon Yoque of the facilitators’ role, “and perhaps we do not calm participants, but it is the process itself and listening carefully to the word of God. The Bible gives us the words of peace that we need in these times of pandemic.”
After attending a webinar and reflecting on the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm at sea (Matthew 8:23-26), Iris Lai-Zayas, a high school teacher from Houston, began thinking about how afraid of the COVID-19 pandemic her students must be. While teaching online she said to her students, “God never abandons us even though it seems that we are alone.”
Inspired by the Scripture passage, Lai-Zayas composed and recorded a song. “It was as if God was telling me the lyrics and it was impossible for me not to play the guitar and put the music together,” she says.
Carola Cerezo-Allen, a nurse at a children’s hospital, and parish leader at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, D.C., was another participant. “Meeting with people who speak the same language of faith and sharing what I feel outside the hospital was important,” she says. “The doors of the church were closed, but we were all open to Christ.”
Cerezo-Allen shared a reflection guide used in a webinar with one of her many parish ministries. “I have a group of parents who have children with special needs,” she says. “We organized a meeting via zoom to reflect on the Easter reflection guide.”
Sergio Rodriguez, of Houston, and his family, including his wife, mother-in-law and two children, got together to participate in the webinars. Rodriguez had lost his job at a restaurant and had not received unemployment checks because his employer had not filled out the necessary paperwork. Although he has permanent U.S. residency, Rodriguez did not receive a stimulus check from the government because his wife is undocumented.
Rodriguez says participating in the webinars has helped his family feel at peace and view things from a different perspective. “We really are in God’s hands and the Lord is going to do his will,” he says. “The best we can do is pray to God for our concerns.”
He and his family put their faith into action. Each week they prepare food containers to leave at the doors of their neighbors. Rodriguez’s mother-in-law is making face masks to donate to people in need. “After participating in the sessions, it became very clear to all of us that we are all missionary disciples,” he says. “When we want to do something for others, we don’t need much.”
Deacon Arturo and Esperanza Monterrubio hope the webinars have helped people feel part of a community of faith.
“Knowing that someone listens to you, supports you and is watching over you has been essential during this pandemic,” Esperanza says.
Arturo values the sharing and generosity of the many people he has met. “That is priceless,” he says. “It shows us that God is present in the most difficult times, as promised.”
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At the end of May, Deacon Arturo Monterrubio and his wife Esperanza decided to work more directly with their local parish, but they will remain part of the Maryknoll family and continue as volunteers with Maryknoll.
Featured Image: Working remotely from home, Stephanie Luna, Maryknoll mission promoter in Los Altos, Calif., helps facilitate a small chat group on a Global Solidarity webinar offered by the Church Engagement Division team. (Lynn F. Monahan/U.S.)
This story was updated for the July/August 2020 issue.